Nathan L. Hecht of Austin took the oath of office as the 27th chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas on Tuesday, replacing Wallace B. Jefferson, who retired.

“This is a great day,” Jefferson told a crowd of justices, clerks, family members, and other spectators inside the Supreme Court before administering the oath to Hecht. “This is a wonderful day because the governor has made an inspired choice.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hecht to serve the remainder of Jefferson’s term, which expires in 2014. A formal investiture ceremony will be schedule later this fall, Hecht said.

“We wanted to have this [swearing in] for the court family this afternoon,” he said.

Hecht, a graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1988 and was the court’s senior justice.

“He has been the leader on this court in terms of our development of the rules of procedure,” said Jefferson, who served with Hecht since 2001. “His scholarship and his writing are second to none. Nathan Hecht has a national reputation as a person with a huge intellect and who brings scholarship in the law. It is a lot of fun working with Nathan Hecht, simply because he is so brilliant at what he does.”

Speakers in turn praised the retiring Jefferson for his leadership, including his focus on access-to-justice issues.

“Obviously, the chief justice has brought honor to the court, to the state, and to himself with the many things he’s accomplished during the terms that he has been the chief justice and, before that, a justice on the Supreme Court,” said Justice Paul W. Green, who was first elected to the court in 2004. “The national recognition, the leadership roles that he’s undertaken and been asked to undertake were performed so well.”

Jefferson was in private practice in San Antonio when Perry appointed him to the court as a justice in March 2001. He won a full term in November 2002 before Perry appointed him chief justice in 2005. He was then elected chief justice in 2006 and re-elected in 2008.

Jefferson thanked Perry, saying the appointments “changed my life.”

“It’s been just a tremendous thrill to be a part of the development of the law in this state and, to some extent, in this country when people are relying on our decisions,” Jefferson said.

Pictured: Outgoing Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, right, swears in his successor, Nathan L. Hecht, on Tuesday at the Supreme Court.